Members and partners of Sheep Producers Australia recently embarked on a two-day fact-finding trip where they observed electronic National Livestock Identification System (sheep) identification technology in use on Victorian farms, and in saleyards and abattoirs.
SPA’s policy remains that it supports the voluntary uptake of EID technology, however we thought it important to observe the system in operation and gain first-hand knowledge and experience from those using it regularly.
SPA was able to pull together a range of stakeholders, including representatives from all state farming organisations bar the Northern Territory, as well as members from NSW Farmers and WoolProducers, to discuss and engage on what has been a controversial topic.
The group included WoolProducers chief executive officer Jo Hall.
“The trip to Victoria provided a chance to observe the challenges and opportunities that have been experienced by different sectors of the sheep supply chain since the implementation of mandatory EID,” she said. “There were a number of learnings to take from this trip that will help inform the future path of national sheep traceability.”
The group visited Gordan Brown’s property, who utilises EID technology on-farm at Shelford, the new Central Victorian Livestock Exchange’s (CVLX) Ballarat saleyard and Colac based processor, Australian Lamb Company (ALC).
In addition to visiting Gordon Brown’s farm to see EID technology in use, the group heard from Colac lamb producer Will Hansen who also uses EID NLIS technology on-farm and receives regular feedback from ALC. This enables him to increase on-farm productivity by significantly increasing ewe numbers and lamb turn-off per hectare.
The use of EID is not uncommon on sheep meat and wool producing farms, with many Victorian producers using the technology as one of their tools for improving performance. Receiving individual carcase feedback from abattoirs is essential to monitor performance of bloodlines and management techniques, as well as knowing whether animals are affected by preventable conditions that have an impact on carcase quality.
On-site at the new CVLX saleyard, the group heard from Ballarat saleyard manager Jonathon Crilly who said the yards had developed their own software for the EID technology, with all information collected from agents using modern technology such as tablets and wi-fi.
The information is then aggregated and uploaded to the NLIS database and office systems in a matter of hours, significantly reducing office administration time. Agents have their own logins and can only view their own clients’ data.
The saleyard set up is full flow-through, with livestock unloaded for drafting and sale via nine unloading ramps. Sheep are scanned as they pass through the drafts, hence agents and saleyards follow their normal practices when scanning EID tagged sheep. The scanning process does not involve additional handling of mobs.
An auto drafter, which includes a scale, is expected to be installed to allow auto-drafting of boxed mobs (both at the vendor area and the buyer pens), weighing of selected lots and EID reading of mobs only partly delivered to an abattoir.
On the day of the visit, 64,000 sheep and lambs were put through the yards with pre-sale drafting taking 18 hours – a similar drafting rate to that prior to EID.
All EID tagged sheep and lambs must be scanned though electronic readers, with agents required to take remedial action where the read rate of a line of sheep or lambs is below 80 per cent. This typically occurs when mobs contain a significant number of untagged sheep.
This point of action will increase to 90pc on March 31, 2019, with the expectation that Ag Vic will move it to 98pc in future. The action level at which agents must act is not reflective of the accuracy of the EID system – all Victorian saleyards are currently reading close to 100pc of electronic NLIS tags.
There was some scepticism when the new system was implemented, but Victorian saleyards have adapted and are making it work for them.
At ALC, the group was informed as to how the introduction of EID in abattoirs had significantly simplified the re-introduction of carcases to their correct line after being placed on the retain rail for further inspection or trimming, ensuring accurate PIC of consignment for each individual carcass.
In total, 24 Victorian abattoirs have received support for the installation of tag reading technology, ranging from wand readers to carcass-tracking equipment and software.
Abattoir scanning rates have been reported to range from 93pc to 99.6pc, with routine uploading by plants of kill files to the NLIS database.
EID technology does not have any impact on processing speed, but abattoirs are required to ensure that readers operate at all times.
Agriculture Victoria has found, like any tagging system, that incorrect placement of EID NLIS tags can result in losses occurring on-farm or as the livestock move through the supply chain.
The minimum cost of a tag, as a result of Agriculture Victoria’s tag tender process and online tag-ordering service, will increase from $0.45 a tag to $0.55 on January 1, 2019.
SPA continues to support the voluntary uptake of EID technology and those on tour were encouraged to see it being used in beneficial ways by different sections of the supply chain.